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It’s easy when you know how

One of the most common dog problems is their persistent pulling whilst on the lead. I have owners who say they have tried every thing including spiked collars and even electric collars but to no avail. Yet when I work their dogs you can see the rapid change with the pulling visibly decreasing yet even when the owner sees the technique working when they try, the dogs revert to pulling them.

I even have had dogs where I have partly trained them and then it only needed the owner to continue once they learned how. When I next see them, or if I even see them at all, the dogs are back to being as bad as they were before and yet for me they work fine. That is no good to the owner so where is it going wrong.

Many years ago, Anita and I use to go to Bradford to learn to skate on a Sunday afternoon. First we had to learn to fall then next strengthen our ankle muscles so that we could stand up straight without constantly running on the inside edge of the skates. The next step was moving forward and turning corners. Once we mastered this and appreciated the benefits of freshly ground skates we wanted to learn how to travel backwards.

For weeks, we tried everything. We pushed ourselves backwards off from the side in the hope we could figure out how to keep moving from the initial momentum. We tried taking it in turns pushing one another backwards. Many skaters seeing our plight came up and offered us loads of advice with demonstrations but we still could not do it.

We knew it must work so we persisted and eventually it came with the first push in the right place at the right time giving a little momentum that with each successive attempt yielded longer distances of travelling backwards. Yes, it was exactly like all the helpers had been telling us how to move but why did it not succeed. What was the problem? It is how we learn motor skills.

A driving instructor can tell you how to drive a car he can tell you what will happen but actually driving needs your own motor skills to work correctly and they only come from practicing for that feel. Even when you go for your next lesson, you seem to have forgotten what you learnt but you find the ability soon comes back quicker and quicker with each successive lesson.

A couple of opportunities came to me this week where I could test to see how people interact with dogs whilst they are training. The first opportunity was I had agreed to look after a cocker spaniel called Bruno then Anita was now talking about having a dog of her own but having never worked a dog in her life she was a complete novice.

Now Bruno is a lovely young dog, but he pulls. The owners have a special harness that is suppose to reduce the pulling. When I tried it, there was a slight difference but the cost to the dog must have been some discomfort in some way that did not stop him pulling but it reduced it to a more comfortable level for the owners.

I simply put a collar on him instead and used a normal lead.

I was on my way to the Arenal when Anita met me and asked could she walk Bruno. I handed the lead over and he went straight onto his hind legs and nearly pulled her off her feet. At first I said nothing but many passers by made the usual remark “Who is taking whom for a walk?” followed by “how do you stop him pulling?” I handed Winston to Anita and I took over Bruno. I walked with for some distance and he reduced his pulling dramatically.

“Can I try that?” was the next question and I showed how to use the lead and continually correct Bruno so that as soon as he pulled forward simply ease him back without jerking the lead and then release so the lead is slack.

As soon as this happened then Bruno would try to go forward again so there was this initial constant correction of pulling Bruno back to where he should be by the side of the handler’s leg without any tension on the lead.

At first, Anita was not getting the feel so many times she fell into the usual owner’s habit of just keeping the dog slightly in front on a tight lead. For the handler doing this means they do not have to be constantly thinking about correcting the dog. For the dog, it makes no difference whether it is a foot in front or ten feet it pulls the same.

So why did Bruno stop pulling for me in a few seconds?

One of my favourite demonstrations for owners is to tie their dogs to something solid and get them to move away and for them to call their dogs to them. At first, the dog tries to reach the owners even barking, and standing up on their hide legs but eventually they give up. I am not talking months or days or hours or even minutes, I am talking seconds.

At most, twenty seconds before the dog gives up and sits with a slack lead. If you do keep calling, it may make a feeble attempt but in those ten or twenty seconds the dog has learnt it cannot pull a wall, gate, or a tree. This begs the question if it can learn it cannot pull a tree in ten seconds then why does it pull the owner. The answer is because the owners have inadvertently taught it to pull.

With Bruno if you stop then he simply sits with a slack lead but as soon as you move off, he pulls. When I am walking him, I constantly ease him back to the right position for walking. He on the other hand constantly wishes to be at the end of the lead where he normally is. This is what I have to change.

I am correcting him every single time so he is in the right position then I release the lead so it is slack. I do not pull him back into position and then as so many handlers do keep a tight lead to hold him in that position so he is still pulling. This is what the dog is learning to pull all the time.

By releasing the lead, Bruno learns to walk with a slack lead but when he moves forward to pull on the lead, I pull him back into position and the lead then becomes slack again. I am only using an ordinary collar and lead without needing to inflict pain as when using a choker. I am not jerking the lead just slowing his pace down until I catch him up then releasing the lead again when he is in the correct position and it works.

Within a few walks up and down the Arenal, Bruno stopped pulling becoming accustomed to the correct position without a lead holding him there. I am aware that the question is why a dog will walk better for me than for the owner. The answer is simply my skill to correct all of the time without even having to think about it and the knowledge that it will work providing I allot the time to train. Certainly, within with the hour Anita had learnt to copy me and to gain the feel for this correct and release technique that does not need to inflict pain.

Using this technique, I expect Bruno to walk with me by my side with a slack lead by the end of a week. I do not expect him to do this all the time if something distracts him but at least most of the time the pulling will have stopped.

If you are confident the technique of training you are learning and using will work you will persevere, it’s as simple as learning to skate backwards.

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